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What I’ve been reading, № 6

15.September 2015

Danticat: Brother, I’m Dying

This book is a really moving account of political upheaval in Haiti, unjust immigration systems in the U.S. and a family’s history caught between the two. Danticat writes beautifully and compellingly. It’s hard to read, but also hard to put down. I recently had the chance to chat with Edwidge in person and she is also completely lovely. I’d recommend reading everything she’s ever written, post-haste.

 

Bacigalupi: The Water Knife

If you’re a fan of science fiction, post-apocalyptic narratives, water politics, dangerous journalism, intrigue, and survival stories, this book is for you. It’s a super-fast read and utterly addictive. That being said, it’s also reasonably gory and very upsetting. I’d recommend reading it after a brief review of the geography of the Colorado River, reading some news articles about water in California, and maybe watching Mad Max (again). I look forward to and dread in equal parts the inevitable film version.

Bacigalupi: Pump Six and Other Stories

Some fantastic short stories, in case The Water Knife didn’t make you worry enough about the future. The title story is fantastic, with shades of Wells’s Eloi frolicking in New York and the fight for humanity’s survival happening in the sewers. It’s unsettling and exceptionally readable. I’ll be teaching “The Tamarisk Hunter” in one of my courses later this semester.

Mitchell: The Bone Clocks

I have a lot to day about this. I read Cloud Atlas a while ago and LOVED it. The history there is that Cloud Atlas came out while I was living in Germany after college. I read the first few pages and flipped through it a few times in a few countries and was thoroughly irritated by what seemed to be a huge artifice and just general literary faffing about without a whole lot of heft behind it. It seemed like the kind of book that has fantastic design (which it did!) to cover up a lack of content within (FALSE). Anyway, long story short, I was enchanted by the links between the sections. While they didn’t appear connected in the beginning, the network of meaning developed throughout and was really intricate by the end. It didn’t wrap anything up into especially neat packages, but was immensely satisfying.

So, of course I picked up The Bone Clocks as soon as it came out in paperback. It started a little slow (not unlike Cloud Atlas in that way, but more upsetting right off the bat), but picked up pretty quickly. It had the same beautiful arc through the sections that I grew to love before, but it has a much more unified plot that made it both more riveting and less satisfying. Generally it felt like a much more exciting book than Cloud Atlas, but considerably less virtuosic. All that means that I’ll recommend it with much LESS reserve and to a wider audience than I did that other book. It’s wonderful.

(Also, maybe you’ve heard – David Mitchell keeps recycling characters and referring to himself and his work in his books. I haven’t decided whether this is really cool or too hipstery to bear. Or maybe he’s weaving a whole universe of characters and stories and it’s going to continue to be AMAZING! I look forward to finding out.)

Remarque: Im Westen nichts Neues / All Quiet on the Western Front

I recently read this for the first time (prepping for a class) and was utterly blown away by the force and the style of the narrative. It’s dark, no doubt, but as a document of the horrors of war it’s indispensable. What’s really remarkable is that it works really beautifully as a piece of literature and not just as reportage. One particular moment conflates gorgeous classic Romantic imagery with the sights and sounds of the front. The smoke rising from the enemy’s guns turn into the meandering clouds floating across an innocent blue sky. Go read it and tell me it doesn’t make you a hardcore pacifist.

And now for something completely different:

Danticat: “A Year and a Day”

This isn’t a book, but rather an essay Danticat wrote a year after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. It’s really important to know that Haiti is still recovering from this disaster and to remember all that goes into making a disaster like this as destructive as it was (both physical and economic casualties and in cost to human life).

Spence, et al: Responses to Iben Browning’s prediction of a 1990 New Madrid, Missouri, Earthquake

And here’s the limit of my nerdy suggestions. None of you are going to follow this recommendation, probably, but it’s pretty fascinating. In the late 80s, Iben Browning predicted a massive earthquake for the New Madrid Fault in Missourri to happen in December of 1990 (ruining my birthday party that year). What ensued was major hysteria, earthquake drills, canceled school, classic doomsday preparations (bottled water, milk, bread, etc.) and a lot of media coverage. Oh, and also Uncle Tupelo wrote a song about it. (You’ll know Uncle Tupelo as a band that featured Jeff Tweedy pre-Wilco.)

ANYWAY. This USGS Circular (available as a free pdf or on paper for, like, $5 shipping and handling) assembles all the documents – Browning’s speeches and writings around the prediction, the media’s frenzy, various scientists’ responses debunking Browning, and some fantastic documents of earthquake sales, etc. It’s a fascinating slice of history. Go and read about it.

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